Your Relationship With Yourself, Others, and God
The most important relationship is the one you have with yourself.
D I A N E V O N F U R S T E N B E R G
As you’re scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest, you probably aren’t thinking -- what’s the deep philosophical meaning of this post? How is this quote influencing my worldview? What’s the underlying message to the inspirational spiel this blogger just gave on her story?
And that’s normal. We don’t go to social media sites to “think.” We pop open our app to do precisely the opposite -- stop thinking. Personally, after a long, exhausting day, Instagram or Pinterest is the perfect thing to help turn off my brain and mindlessly soak in pretty visuals that help me relax. For other people, it’s YouTube or TikTok.
However, the truth is, as mindless as scrolling through our feeds may feel, it’s not truly mindless at all. There’s a little part of our brain we can’t quite shut off and that part is sifting through the media we are encountering, decoding and absorbing the subliminal messages that are ingrained in every post. That’s not to say that content creators are intentionally placing those messages there. Most of them are just being themselves. But because we live in a world with almost as many worldviews and beliefs systems as there are people, whatever we create will carry our deepest beliefs ingrained in it.
So a danger emerges -- when our conscious brain is turned off, usually our filters are too. We subliminally absorb A LOT of unbiblical information and A LOT of straight up lies from Satan. These messages can often be so couched in logic or be so emotionally appealing we often don’t realize 1) that they are unbiblical and 2) that we are totally buying into them.
To counteract this danger, we have to take time to actively examine the core messages of this time and how they align with Scripture. And those that don’t, we have to toss out.
I chose the quote at the beginning of this post because it is so very typical and its message so ubiquitous. I have seen this same message, in one form or another, countless times while scrolling social media. It’s a feel-good quote that makes me, frankly, feel good. Here’s why.
As time has passed and I’ve gone through life, the most intense pain I have ever experienced has come from outside myself. I’ve been angry at hurtful actions from other people and I’ve been angry at actions of God that I have perceived as being hurtful. This has driven me more and more inside myself as my trust in the Other (any outside source) has slowly deteriorated. I’ve often felt that truly the only person I can rely on is myself because I always have my best interest at heart, I’ll always choose the best possible outcome for myself, and I’ll always choose my own happiness.
The words of this quote resonate with my experience. Truly, if I care about myself more than anyone else and am responsible for my own well-being and happiness, then indeed, the most important relationship I can possibly have is with myself.
All of that is Maria talking, aka what the Bible calls The Flesh. But when I’m tired, my defenses are down, my conscious mind is turned off, oftentimes, I’m operating in The Flesh and that’s what my subconscious brain would probably make of that quote.
And bam, I’ve reasoned through, internalized, and accepted something without taking the second step -- checking if the logic of this message and my personal logic / experiences align with what God has to say. I cannot emphasize enough the danger of doing this, of skipping that second step, of going past The Flesh and seeing what The Spirit has to say.
Let’s do that second step together, using our four-question tool.
Who is speaking and on what authority?
Diane Von Furstenberg, who is making a pretty bold, broad, philosophical statement here, is a Belgian fashion designer who married and later divorced a Belgian prince. Does this really matter? Yes and no. My point here is that she is neither a philosopher nor an expert in this area and yet she is making powerful moral and philosophical claims. So already there’s not a lot of credibility there. I don’t like random strangers off this earth telling me how to live my life and what I should believe. If I’m going to believe a human over God, I’d rather believe someone that I perceive as an expert or myself. But even should she be the worlds’ greatest moral philosopher, we have to realize that whatever authority one is speaking on, we nix it if it’s not on the authority of the Bible, the only authority we accept.
What are they really saying?
Part of the human experience consists of relationships, i. e. the connection that two entities have. Being a soul, you can have a relationship with any other soul, with God, and in a sense, with the different parts within yourself (implying that you have at least two parts to yourself). I’m not sure what two parts of a human self someone who doesn’t believe in God would be referring to, but let’s just notice that we have to believe in something like soul + spirit even if we aren’t Christians as long as we are talking about “respecting ourselves,” “loving ourselves,” and “having a relationship with ourselves.” Furstenberg is creating a hierarchy between the relationships we mentioned. Between our relationships with other people, with God, and with ourselves, she is putting the self-relationship first. She is creating priorities, and a good relationship with ourselves, she is saying, should morally be our first priority.
What is my ultimate authority and how does this message align with it?
For others, their ultimate authority may be their parents, a role model (think someone they grew up with, an influencer, some famous person, a politician), or even their own sense of logic. However, as Christians, trumping even our own logic and experience, God is our ultimate authority, and His message in the Bible. First of all, the Bible does mention 3 different parts of the “self” (the body, soul and spirit). So in a sense, we can have a relationship with ourselves. So far so good. How about the question of hierarchy? What does God have to say about which relationship is most important? You don’t have to dig far for that one! It’s all in, according to Jesus, the first and greatest commandment: “And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. God literally chose to address this exact question in the “first and greatest commandment.” God’s priorities are: your relationship with Him comes FIRST, your relationship with others comes SECOND and is modeled after the love you have for yourself, and whoops, He never commands loving yourself, though He does mention this third relationship. What is He communicating by this? I believe that there’s a pretty clear assumption here that self-love is a given. It’s natural; it takes no work; you’re born loving yourself. Now, there are obvious dangers to making this statement unqualified, after all, what about the very real problem of negative self-talk, self-destructive behaviors such as anorexia, bulimia, cutting, and suicide? What about depression and self-loathing? All very real, sinful problems that we will be addressing in later posts -- this whole series is basically about that. For now, we have to take the Bible at its word that self-love in the sense that you will always naturally seek to exalt/glorify yourself is natural and must be our LAST priority.
What do I believe?
I hope the answer to this is: God’s truth. The Bible. That’s certainly what I believe and choose to hold true no matter if I have questions. In fact, I’m kind of happy to not address the problems with “self-love coming naturally” because it is an exercise in faith. When we find things in God’s Word that don’t make logical sense to us or don’t align with our experiences, we need to make a choice. Will we believe God’s word regardless and ask Him for light into those unclear areas? Will we put active effort in clearing up our doubts and confusion through Bible study, research, and wise counsel to avoid subconsciously falling into doubt? Or will we remain on the fence and invariably fall into believing a lie? That will happen, because the lie is easier and oftentimes makes more “surface” sense or “right away” sense. This is an important question to answer because I believe if we don’t take the time to decide to believe God, we’re leaving it up to nature, and nature will always push us into the natural, the flesh, the lie.
I'm such a thinking person and not that much a practical person, so I try to always give a practical takeaway to make sure these things don't remain at the level of thoughts but that we put what we learn into action. James1:23-24 says "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like." So here's what we can do:
1. Ask: What was my answer to "who is my ultimate authority"? Not the "correct answer" but actually -- who or what do I look to for my opinions and worldviews? We all say it's the Bible but is it? Many times I have found myself looking to social norms or my peer's opinions for what I think about an issue instead of the Bible. It's always a convicting wakeup call when I realize this is happening and I have to realign myself and remake my decision to choose believe the Bible is God's perfect revelation about Himself, others, myself, and this world and my ultimate authority.
2. Pray: Start your day by asking God to help you love Him with all your "heart, soul, and might" and your "neighbor as yourself." Christ-like love for others cannot be manufactured, it has to be placed in you by God Himself. Ask to be led by the Spirit and not by the flesh because the Spirit will always lead you to live with correct priorities.
3. Prioritize: Chances are, your priorities are completely upside down. They will naturally be so for all of us because of our sinful nature. Your first reaction may be to try to love others more. Wrong. We can't love others more from ourselves. What you really need to do is fix your first priority. Seek God. Treasure Christ. Ask God to change you so that you prioritize and value your relationship with Him first and foremost, investing the most time, energy, and effort into growing that. This will naturally realign your priorities.
4. Observe: Watch yourself and see how many times a day you think about yourself. How many times during a conversation with someone else do you take what they say and see it in light of yourself or what you think/feel about it? If someone tells you something hard about themselves, are you really listening and sympathizing or are you thinking of what you can say next that relates their experience back to yourself? Your flesh will find a MILLION ways to make everything about yourself and even just realizing and noticing this is a great step in the right direction of reprioritizing relationships in your life.
May God help us all to live in a way that lines up with the beautiful, truly fulfilling order that He has established. He is what it's all about!
Keep looking up,